Friday, October 30, 2015

Wildlife Photography - Mala Mala

This is now my second trip to Mala Mala in a week. The southern African spring has settled in over the lowveld and temperatures were in the early 30's upon arrival. Birds are in full breeding swing and many of the migrants have arrived already, the most noticeable being the cuckoos which can easily be identified by call. Klaas's, Diedericks, African Black, Red-chested, African and even a Thick-billed cuckoo have been recorded. It is just the Woodland Kingfishers which haven't yet arrived but will probably announce their presence in around three weeks from now. Although conditions were overcast for much of our time we did manage to see wildlife of all shapes and forms, something Mala Mala prides itself in. Again, several individual leopards were seen, (sometimes more than one individual in a single sighting), Lions, Elephants, Buffalo and White Rhino as well as African Wilddogs making this the second trip in a row where all the big five as well as Wilddogs were seen!
Due to the overcast conditions, lowlight nocturnal photography was at the order of the day. Below follows a few images of a great interaction we were privileged to observe.  

The Bicycle crossing male staring intently at the approaching Island female's approach, at this stage still unseen by us.
The first drive delivered a Large male leopard, known as the Bicycle crossing male (named after the area he has his territory in) on an Impala kill. Initially the photography wasn't great due to the dense foliage and very bright sky behind the cat but we decided to wait it out. Incredibly though, a report came through of a female, the Island female, only a few hundred meters away on the opposite side of the river.

First glance as the female enters the arena again from the shadows in the hope to regain some of her kill.  
Spending a few minutes with her as she lazed on the riverbank we practiced the shutter fingers until she got up and started out for the night. Hoping that the big male on the kill will be more photogenic we returned to the Bicycle crossing male. In True Mala Mala style we hardly settled in when the female arrived on the scene. Turns out that she was the one who made the kill which the male then appropriated. Now she returned to the kill site hoping to regain access to her hard won dinner.

Upon the female's approach the male positioned himself at a fork in the tree where all access is cut off to the kill - all against the backdrop of a rising moon. 
 The male however would have none of that and upon her arrival moved from his very comfortable perch to a spot where he would prevent any access to the last remaining meat. This all with a beautiful almost full moon rising behind the drama.

All the while a spotted Hyena lurks below.
And the ever present Spotted hyena lurking below hoping for a gift from above.

Photo notes: 

Some of my thoughts regarding photography I shared with the guests on safari which I think photographers may find useful. First and foremost I tried to tell a story with the images. Thus the images that were chosen in the first place had to tell a story. Importantly each image had to fit in with the rest of the images in terms of look and feel but also as a whole contribute to the story. The intent stare of the male leopard for instance tied in with the ghostlike image of the female appearing in the shadows. Secondly I deliberately chose the side lit, darker images as I wanted to communicate the ghostlike atmosphere of sitting in this remarkable sighting as well as the top predators that is so well adapted to life at zero light.

What I would have liked are the following. Getting more than one animal in a composition and hopefully get some sort of interaction. Then of course to be able to spend more time over a few days at the scene either prior to- or afterwards. But we had only arrived on that day and the action was all done the next day.  

The very impressive sight of five large male lions  on a buffalo kill. 
Over the next three days we literally saw everything in abundance and space just will not allow for more images. Another highlight I'd like to share though was the very last morning when we followed up on a buffalo killed by two lionesses the previous day. In stead of two lionesses we encountered five large male lions on the kill. Trespassing into others territory they were somewhat nervous and kept on looking into the west where the roars of the resident pride could be heard. When the local pride came too close, the coalition of five's nerves gave in and they headed for safer territory. But on their way to safer territory they found a lame waterbuck, which they killed!!

Nature is totally unapologetic. Its graphic but its nature.

Images on safari: 

Having fun on drive

Photographing a leopard in great light.

Getting ready for the next round of wildlife. 
A leopard walks past the vehicle close enough to touch. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Guest Images - Jackie Strong

I met Jackie in 2014 on a safari to Nakuru, Maasai Mara and Laikipia. We hit it off immediately and had a great two weeks in the bush. Obviously the combination of her absolute love of Africa and photography made it even easier as we had so much in common. Laying down and mastering the basics of photography on the first trip, we took it further on the second safari to Mashatu, the Timbavati  and Mala Mala.  I get a great kick out of seeing someone's photography develop and am happy (and quite proud) to present a small selection of her images from the last safari. 

Our first safari together in the Maasai Mara. Except for photography the best thing on safari...sundowners!!
Elephant in the Majale River in Mashatu

Textures of a Leopard against a fallen Nyalaberry tree in Mashatu.
Early morning Rhino which three rangers managed to miss and eventually found by Jackie.
Getting Creative with Elephant at night.

Combining artificial and natural light during the "blue hour" just before darkness overtook the scene. 

A young male giving some attitude in great afternoon light
From the guest book, I leave you with Jackie's comments from her trip:

Albie and I met last year through the recommendation of the travel agent who had organised my trips to Africa for several years.  I was a happy snapper of African wild life with. pretensions to be better,  Albie was a professional photographer and wild life guide based in South fAfrica - a match made in heaven and so it proved.  I sometimes don't  recognise my own photographs now.   He has patiently and clearly walked me through an improvement programme and we had fun whilst doing it.  I am now on my second safari with Albie, my  photographic technique has improved and I would recommend his services unreservedly.".

Monday, October 19, 2015

Photographic safari -Third Stop - Mala Mala

After Mashatu and Tanda Tula it was off to Mala Mala, our last destination of the safari. This was my very first time at Mala Mala and, due to a reputation I can recall since childhood I arrived with high expectations. Let me cut to the chase immediately: It did not disappoint!!  

Young leopard in the undergrowth.
22 Kilometers of Sandriver frontage on both sides and 14 500 hectares of pristine wilderness adjoining directly onto Kruger makes for some exceptional game-viewing. This all is accessed exclusively by Mala Mala guests. The reserve is also South Africa's oldest private game reserve and its reputation as one of the wolds best game viewing areas is as firmly established now as in the 60's when it was established.

The clean-up team - superb Spotted Hyena action.
Even though the cloudy conditions during the first few days dampened the photographic opportunities a bit, the incredible wildlife sightings more than made up for it. Its as everything is in overdrive. You don't just see Spotted Hyena's pacing along. They either finish off a Kudu kill or harass a leopard on a kill in a tree. 

Joyful ellie youngster.
The upside of the overcats conditions and short rain showers is that the animals just come alive after the first rains - A young elephant in a joyful mood shortly after a rain shower.

Male Klipspringer in ots rocky habitat

In between all the action, a host of otehr species provide ample additional viewing.

Adult Wilddog getting some of the scraps wile a rain shower sets in. 
Always a highlight with me are African Hunting Dogs. We found this pack late one afternoon finishing off a Nyala kill. Six adults and 12 puppies in total. Again the light was quite difficult to photograph in but the mere fact that one can spend hours with one of Africa's most endangered and rare carnivore is a huge privilege.

A young Wilddog pauses from feeding while its siblings are still feeding in the background.
Spotted Hyena at dusk
This Spotted Hyena was part of a group of four who circled a female leopard protecting her impala kill on a rock.  As night fell, patience started running out and they stared investigating thing closer, which fortunately for un included the vehicle. 

African Wilddogs are easily some of the most entertaining animals to observe. They always seem to do something. Here is a short clip to show just how active they are.

We also had great interaction between a mating pair of lion. This male, not wanting to loose sight of the female followed her closely. At times she just had enough!!

Game Viewing at Mala Mala as we wait for the predators to erupt into action. 

Yet another crazy sighting. A leopard guarding her kill (in the yellow spotlight on the left of the image) while a spotted hyena circles the scene in anticipation.

At the end of the safari the total amounted great lion sightings, no less that 13 individual leopard which we saw on several occasions, Cheetah, countless Elephant and Buffalo 38 additional species of mammals and superb birds, many of which just arrived back in the southern hemisphere for our summer. 

Last drive of the safari - straight to the airport! 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Photographic safari - Second stop - Tanda Tula

Eight week old Lion Cubs
The Timbavati is privately owned land and is adjacent and open to Kruger National Park making it part of a ecosystem of more than 2 million hectares. Indeed one of Africa's finest wildlife areas. With its relatively flat typography and wooded bushland it is quite different from the more open and undulating Mashatu yet still as exciting. Our camp of choise was Tanda Tula, a tented camp along the now dry Sharalumi river. Its one of South Africa's flagship tented camps. But don't be fooled. This luxury camp is super comfortable yet with a warm personal touch evident throughout. 

White-faced Scops-owls
I have always maintained that due to the more wooded landscape the Timbavati (or Greater Kruger) is a land of surprizes. Game is not seen from a kilometer away but one never knows what the next bend in the road may yield. This was beautifully illustrated when finding a pair of symmetric White-Faced scops owls roosting in a Combretum tree. 

Dwarf mongoose
No drive was without excitement. We encountered a very obliging clan of Dwarf moongoose in a similarly surprizing manner and because everyone was interested in everything nature had on offer even that provided excellent viewing and photographing opportunities ( and my first decent images of these cool little carnivores).

Stunning Leopard drinking at last light.
Thats not to say we were not interested in the predators. Leopard visited camp every night which we loved and we saw three individuals during our time at Tanda Tula. Another unique feature of this neck of the woods is the effort and skill employed in getting quality sightings. This striking image of a drinking leopard was purely a result of the combined skills of our guide Scotch and his tracker Patrick.

Boisterous cubs 
Our first lion cubs of the safari were seen at Tanda Tula. Catching up with them just before nightfall provided great viewing as the two of them started playing (and bullying) one another.

Early morning White Rhino.
The Timbavati is also one of the best places to see and photograph White Rhinos. The second largest land mammal is becoming increasingly under threat due to the poaching pandemic flooding Africa. Comforting to know though is that a heavy presence in the Timbavati is halting this problem.  

View over the Sharalumi River from the Deck.
Now off to our last stop. The incredible Mala Mala.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Photographic safari - First stop - Mashatu

Mashatu Senset
Here are a few images and other highlights from a private photographic safari through Botswana’s Tuli block and South Africa's Lowveld.

With the firm objective of getting maximum quality wildlife sightings our destinations were the ever popular Mashatu, Tanda Tula in the Timbavati and the exquisite Rattrays on Mala Mala.

First on our itinerary was the above mentioned and ever-popular Mashatu where we stayed at the tented camp. This camp just never misses a beat and everything from the accommodation, food and staff is consistently good, ever since my first visit to the area in 2010. The well informed and professional and soft spoken Botswana guides are amazing and add so much to the quality of ones stay.

Leopard Drinking at dusk
If anything, the area is only going from strength to strength. We rented the C4 specialized photographic vehicle for the duration of our stay making the photography so much more convenient.

We had hardly set off on our first game-drive when we encountered the first Leopard of the safari in golden light.  Still a relatively young and boisterous individual she stalked everything from doves flying past to waders on the edge of the river offering great viewing. This was to be the first of 12 individual leopards seen on this safari.

Quintessential Mashatu scene is a Saddle-Billed Stork fishing in one of the many remnant pools.
Elephants at night.
Trying to get n some new taken on familiar subjects we photographed this herd of Elephant drinking at night.

Crocodile defending its prey against Spotted Hyena's
One of the most remarkable sightings i have ever observed was this relatively young croc defending its prey against spotted Hyena's. Interesting enough was the fact that this relatively small croc managed to kill an adult impala. We got to the scene at sunset, a time when Hyena's tend to get quite brave. Keeping well outside the crocs reach they taunted the poor reptile, which defended the kill relentlessly. The day belonged to the Hyena's though as upon our return the next morning all that remained was a stained patch in the riverbed where the Hyena's finished the kill. 

Rare sighting of a Spotted Eagle Owl on its nest.
October is the start of the southern hemisphere summer, a very exciting time as all the migrant birds return and much of the breeding season starts in earnest. We were very lucky to see a Spotted Eagle Owl on it nest along a rocky ledge. 

Images on Safari: 

Photographing Elephant

Photographing Spotted Hyena
Main Mess area
Next Stop on our safari - Tanda Tula in the Timbavati!!

Maasai Mara Migration

The cloud cover and dramatic filtered light made for great wide angle attempts, something fresh from the normal tight images of crossings. 
2015 was the 12th year I have visited the Migration since my first visit in 2004. The place just never seems to disappoint and indeed this year was no exception. Sightings are consistently amazing and below follows a few images with some thoughts behind the shot.

A slightly more conventional crossing image.
This is the type of image that everyone wants from the Mara. The problem comes that too often the wildebeest is viewed from above and the image is taken from a high angle. Here we were fortunate to get the action from a relatively low angle. Not going in too tight, although not too wide made this image work. But what clinched this for me is the leaping juvenile against the depth of the herd.

A Martial Eagle taking off with its recently caught Banded Mongoose 
Some images are made and some are just taken. Here is a good example of the latter. For years I have been looking for an image of a Martial Eagle mantling over a Gazelle fawn, something that does happen from time to time in the Mara. When we found this eagle sitting in the grassland during mid morning, I thought my luck was in. Parking a way off all camera setting were checked and we slowly approached. When it took off it wasn't a Gazelle but a Banded Mongoose. Still a great bit of action. 

Cheetah with Thompson's Gazelle fawn. 
The Mara is probably the best place to witness Cheetah kills. I have been unlucky in the sense that most of this action I have witnessed happened whenever all photographic light have disappeared. This morning was the exception to the rule as the Cheetah made her kill in great subdued morning light.
A mother Leopard keeping a watchful eye on a distant Hyena as her cub seeks comfort close-by. 
We were really fortunate to find this mother with her three month old cub on afternoon. And typically the only sightings were obscured my grass. Only when darkness fell did the leopards move into the open. The light was all but gone but the great low light capabilities of today's cameras allowed us to photograph them.

Leopard cub.
Next morning we were back at the leopard den looking for an image in great light. Being first on the scene we found the cub again in the thick grass. Fortunately whenever another vehicle appeared the cub would dash for the den and keep an eye on the approaching "danger".

Lion cubs in playful mood